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Supergirl – Survivors Review

"Deep themes in a brightly colored package"

In my review for last week’s episode, “Welcome to Earth,” I remarked that the alien amnesty storyline allowed Supergirl to pointedly address a contemporary social issue by dressing it in the cloak of allegory. “Survivors” ups the allegorical ante with its sci-fi infused references to historical atrocities like American slavery and the Holocaust. The episode centers on J’onn J’onzz’s attempts to form a bond with M’gann M’orzz, who, like him, is a survivor of Mars. The racial and political subtext of J’onn and M’gann’s conversation is so explicit that the word “subtext” hardly seems apt. M’gann recounts for J’onn her existence living in one of the more infamous Martian prison camps before a White Martian (one of the good ones, she hastens to add) helps her to escape. While J’onn is eager to reconnect with one of his own people, M’gann rejects his attempts to connect culturally and psychically with her: “That’s the difference—I don’t want to remember,” she tells him at one point. Dressing the sci-fi alien storyline in the costume of the African American experience has the potential to be jarring and even offensive if done incorrectly. Thankfully, it’s done tastefully and subtly enough that the “medicine” of the message is disguised within the colored candy coating of a superhero TV series.

While the Green Martian plotline gives “Survivors” a poignancy uncommon to the genre, make no mistake: Supergirl is also a show where superpowered aliens beat each other up. And since I happen to like shows like that, it can genuinely be said that Supergirl is a show for everyone. Especially if that someone (those someones?) is me.

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It should be noted that, four episodes into the second season, Supergirl is building up an impressive roster of characters. Last week we were introduced to no fewer than five new characters, three of them recurring: Mon-El, Maggie Sawyer, and the aforementioned M’gann M’orzz (that episode was so jam-packed that there was barely room to mention her in the review). This week we’re introduced to Roulette (Dichen Lachman), a new antagonist who runs an underground alien fight club. While many are either suspicious or fearful of the superpowered aliens on Earth, Roulette takes the view that they’re an exploitable work force who few humans will miss if they happen to perish in the ring. For a fairly recent character, Roulette has had surprising staying power—previous versions of the character appeared on Justice League Unlimited and Smallville—which stands to reason as the metahuman fight club gimmick is a fun one (albeit a bit dated). Lachman brings a sense of style and corruptibility to the character that makes her a natural foil to the squeaky-clean Supergirl. Given that she’s able to avoid imprisonment at the end of the episode, it’s apparent that the show is grooming Roulette as a recurring villain, which would be all the better as far as I’m concerned.

It’s a testament to how chock-full “Survivors” is that I’ve gotten this far into the review without mentioning Supergirl, the character for whom the show is named after. Following the events of the previous episode, Kara continues to practice tolerance for the Daxamite Mon-El (aka the Kryptonian brother from another mother). If the J’Onn/M’gann dynamic has strong parallels to the African American experience—down to the fact that the actors portraying the characters are black—then the relationship between Kara and Mon-El has strong parallels to historical Anglo-Irish relations. Kara and Mon-El are able to find common ground despite their differences, differences that “Survivors” further delineates by showing us Mon-El’s life on Daxam as a member of the royal guard. In a twist, he’s forced into an escape pod off the exploding planet by the prince he was sworn to protect. Although he doesn’t fight by Kara’s side in this episode, he does lend her an invaluable assist in her fight with Draaga, the seven-foot-tall alien gladiator who’s been a recurring figure in the Superman mythos. It’s only a matter of time before we see him in a supersuit, as the show comes up with a clever way of getting him off the DEO base while also helping to redefine Supergirl’s initial mission on Earth.

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Oh, and about Alex and Maggie…they’re totally going to become an item soon, aren’t they?

Final Thoughts:

  • The unlikely pairing of Mon-El and Winn was pretty amusing—is a spin-off buddy film far behind?
  • The absence of James Olsen was noted this episode, but makes sense given that he’s being set up in his own superhero identity next episode. Question is, will this development overkill on the superpowered character front?
  • Two episodes in and it’s already becoming clear that Snapper is a poor substitute for Cat in the “busting Kara’s chops” front. Snapper’s hyper-macho, old-school newsman shtick isn’t nearly as fun or inspired as Cat’s feminine cool.
  • I’m kinda hoping we get to see a game of garata played at some point in this series. If there’s anything that can make soccer more exciting, it’s gotta be dragons right?
  • Kara goes to Lena Luthor in order to track down Roulette, which Lena is only too happy to do. But after her super-cryptic “I’ll know you’ll be there when the time comes,” the odds are increasingly likely that she’s another Luthor up to no good.
  • So on top of hiding from J’onn the fact that she was in an underground alien fight club, she also doesn’t tell him that she’s a White Martian too? Not a good way to build trust, M’gann!
Rating
8.0
Pros
  • Trenchant commentary on contemporary issues under a sci-fi guise
  • Introducing DC Comics characters with an interesting twist (Mon-El, Maggie Sawyer)
Cons
  • The tension between Alex and Maggie is palpable - will they or won't they already?!
  • Could James Olsen as a superhero plotline be a flop?

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